Foreign Policy Digital

How Hindu Nationalism Went Mainstream

And what that means for Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party

On a hot day in May, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi held a campaign rally in the central Indian city of Indore. Young men spread as far as the eye could see. Wearing bright orange T-shirts that said “NAMO AGAIN!” in comic-book letters, they scanned the sky for the helicopter carrying their superhero, the soon-to-be-reelected prime minster.

Patriotic songs from major Bollywood war hits played in the background. A particular favorite, from the film Border, was sung in the film by homesick soldiers on the battlefront, remembering the mothers and sweethearts who waited for them at home. The song was apt for what had become a national-security election, fought in the shadow of air strikes against Pakistan.  The young men at the rally were soldiers, too, of a sort—soldiers for the cause of a Hindu nation.

When Modi arrived, he lost no time in raising that banner. He opened his speech by leading the crowd in a salutation. But many in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), including the prime minister, now routinely use the salutation themselves, and brand those unwilling to do so as unpatriotic.

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